Josh Berwanger Band
Josh Berwanger could easily be considered a veteran of the rock and roll wars. He first made a name for himself as a member of The Anniversary, a seminal Kansas band that released two glorious albums (2000’s Designing a Nervous Breakdown and 2002’s Your Majesty) and selling over 100,000 records before imploding in a breakup of Fleetwood Mac-style proportions while attempting to tour Japan. Undeterred, Berwanger put together a new band—a country-rock outfit called The Only Children–and would go on to release two criminally underrated records (2004’s Change of Living and 2007’s Keeper of Youth) before pulling the plug on that project and taking a job doing the next most logical thing possible– coaching high school basketball in Lawrence, Kansas.
Having experienced the highest highs and lowest lows involved with chasing his musical dreams for the better part of two decades, Berwanger found himself at a crossroads—should he finally hang up his guitar for good or should he soldier on, pulling together his best tunes and working with a group of friends to make the best music possible? Luckily, he chose the latter. “There’s this part of me that really wants music to be normal again. I don’t even know what I mean by that exactly, but I know what normal isn’t—designer outfits, fireworks, crazy gimmicks. I don’t know how to relate to that. I want to make rock and roll. I want to make something honest.”
Such sentiments make sense coming from a guy who, as a child, used his first communion money to buy Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil on cassette. On his new record, Strange Stains, Berwanger manages to balance what have always been his primary influences—the spirit and ethos of classic rock with the kind of pop sensibility and knack for hummable melody that made The Anniversary such a great band back in their heyday. Tracks like “Time Traveler” and “I Can Feel the Moon” rank among some of Berwanger’s loveliest (and catchiest) tunes, while “Baby Loses Her Mind” is the kind of sing-along jam that wouldn’t have been out of place on a classic FM radio playlist.
For the recording of Strange Stains, Berwanger joined forces with old pal (and original drummer for The Anniversary) Michael Hutcherson, who brought not only brought the rhythm to the record, but a wonderful familiarity as well. “Josh and I met in 1996 while playing in local Kansas City pop punk bands,” recalls Hutcherson, “I am honored to be making music with Josh again. For all that’s changed in our lives over the years, we’ve still got a symbiotic musical relationship. No questions, no egos, just rock and roll. “
The new record—which also features additional playing from The Breeders’ Jim Macpherson—speaks not only to Berwanger’s tenacity as a musician, but also to his sense of humor as well. Even though his musical path has been strewn with a few left turns (and a couple of cliffs), he has always retained his ability to turn lemons into sweet, sweet lemonade. Regarding the origins of Strange Stains, he has this to say: “I started dating a girl and she said the only way she would continue to date me was if I got a job in corporate America that involved sitting in a cubicle. I said a quick ‘Fuck No’ and instantly started writing this new album.”
Berwanger’s songs are born out of love, heartbreak, fear and frustration. They sound as big and open and honest as a Kansas skyline and speak to the struggle, unique to someone trying to slug it out in the music business for most of their adult life. Berwanger is, any many ways, a visceral statement about what it means to keep doing what you love—even when it feels like you are doing so against all odds.
”It’s an honest and truly sincere rock and roll record,” he says. “It’s a record that speaks about love, heartbreak, idiots, and continuing to pursue what you love to do, no matter how hard that shit is.”